Recent conversations have led me to question the use of the term “Apartheid” to describe the situation in Israel and the occupied or unoccupied territories. While I fully believe the use of the term to be “accurate” and “truthful”, this does not mean the use of the term is considerate, strategically effective, or right. Nietzsche’s questioning of the priority of the will to truth is relevant here:
Very early in my life I took the question of the relation of art to truth seriously; even now I stand in hoy dread in the face of this discordance. My first book was devoted to it. The Birth of Tragedy believes in art on the background of another belief – that it s not possible to live with truth, that the “will to truth” is already a symptom of degeneration. (Notebooks XIV, 368)
Nietzsche rightly recognized that truth is not the highest value for life – that we can live “in the truth” (especially in the sense of scientific or philosophical truth), and yet fail to flourish. The Bhagavad-Gita makes a complementary claim – that in acetic practice one should use “Words that do not cause disquiet, [words] truthful, kind and pleasing…” (Bhagavad Gita 17-15).
We should not be surprised that “what one should do”, is different from “what is the case” – this distinction is already part of western philosophy as the “is/ought” distinction – first proposed by David Hume in the 1739 Treatise on Human Nature. But, at the same time, the Socratic dictum: “only the examined life is worth living”, seems to establish Truth as the highest value – should we not all lead Socratic lives? However, if language is subjective, i.e. has meaning only to subject, doesn’t the difference in interpretation between individuals and groups mean sensitivity to the ways others will interpret writing or speech are relevant considerations for any speaker? In the following short piece, I will discuss the implications this line of reasoning on the use of the term “Apartheid” in the context of Israel, with the help of Derrida’s chapter “The Violence of the Letter” from from the work Of Grammatology. (All citations unless indicated otherwise are from Of Grammatology, translation by Gayatri Spivak, John Hopkins University Press: 1997).
inhumane acts of a character similar to those referred to in paragraph 1, committed in the context of an institutionalised regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime (Rome Statute)
d. Deportation or forcible transfer of population;….h. Persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender (Rome Statute)
On this definitional account it would be difficult to deny that various current practices in Israel and the territories constitute Apartheid (which is a “crime against humanity”). However, the meaning of Apartheid is not only decided by a court. It is deeply associated with the political history of South Africa. South African apartheid was influenced by certain European educational models, and perhaps most significantly the Canadian Indian Act and Residential Schools program – but does that make it appropriate to retroactively use “Apartheid” to describe Canada? While Canada and many other states might fit the “definition” of Apartheid, if Apartheid is a proper name it violent to apply it universally. And incorrect – since proper names do not have definitions – they apply strictly to their bearer.
…we have proposed [this fact] about the essence or the energy of the graphein [that it is] the originally effacement of the proper name. From the moment that the proper name is erased in a system, there is writing, there is a “subject” from the moment that this obliteration of the proper is produced, that is to say from the first appearing of the proper and from the first dawn of language. This proposition is universal in essence and can be produced a priori. (108)
…the other cannot be absolutely exterior to the same without ceasing to be other; and that, consequently, the same is not a totality closed in upon itself, an identity playing with itself, having only the appearence of alterity….How could there be a “play of the same” if alterity itself was not already in the Same…? (Writing and Difference 126-7)
…if a text always gives itself a certain representation of its own roots, those roots live only by that representation, by never touching the soil, so to speak. Which undoubtedly destroys their radical essence, but not the necessity of their racinating function. (101)
…the proper name has never been, as the unique appellation reserved for the presence of a unique being, anything but the original myth of a transparent legibility present under the obliteration; it is because the proper name was never possible except through its functioning within a classification and therefore within a system of differences, within a writing retaining the traces of difference, that the interdict was possible, could come into play, and , when the time came, as we shall see, could be transgressed; transgressed, that is to say, restored to the obliteration and the non-self-sameness [non-propriete] at the origin. (109)
To name, to give names that it will on occasion be forbidden to pronounce, such is the originally violence of language which consists in inscribing within a difference, in classifying, in suspending the vocative absolute. To think the unique within the system, to inscribe it there, such is the gesture of the arche-writing: arche-violence, loss of the proper, of absolute proximity, of self-presence, in truth the loss of what has never taken place, of a self-presence which has never been given but only dreamed of and always already split, repeated, incapable of reparatory, protective, instituting the “moral,” prescribing the concealment of writing and the effacement and obliteration of the so-called proper name which was already dividing the proper, a third violence can possible emerge or not (an empirical possibility) within what is commonly called evil, war, indiscretion, rape; which consists of revealing effraction of the so-called proper name, the originally violence which has severed the proper from its property and its self-sameness [propriete]. (112)
If it is true, as I in fact believe, that writing cannot be thought outside of the horizon of intersubjective violence, is there anything, even science, that radically escapes it? Is there a knowledge, and, above all, a language, scientific or not, that one can call alien at once to writing and to violence? If one answers in the negative, as I do, the use of these concepts to discern the specific character of writing is not pertinent. (127)<p>
To recognize writing in speech, that is to say difference and the absence of speech, is to begin to think the lure. There is no ethics without the presence of the other but also, and consequently, without absence, dissimulation, detour, difference, writing. The arche-writing is the origin of morality as of immorality. The nonethical opening of ethics. A violent opening. (139-140)